How to clip your airfare costs

Giving up the paper ticket is one of many ways to land the best prices

Strategies

September 29, 2002|By Knight Ridder / Tribune

Here are 20 tips to help you stand up to the recent airfare changes.

1. Travel purchased online is often your best deal, but the burden of reading the fine print falls on you. A travel agent can advise you of refund and cancellation policies.

2. Online sites that sell tickets without revealing the airline or schedule might give you the best deal (it's not guaranteed), but you could pay in bad routing, long layovers or travel times.

3. Booking in advance used to be the best way to get a deal. With the Internet, the advantage is often shifted to last-minute travelers. Wednesday postings for travel the next weekend can be your cheapest way to fly.

4. It's time to give up the paper ticket. Airlines are charging fees of up to $25 a ticket for a paper copy.

5. You can now buy miles on most major airlines. Not cost-effective on their own, they're a great way to reach an award-ticket threshold if you're a few thousand miles short.

6. Senior airfare coupons are now limited. Most major airlines have also eliminated the once standard 10 percent senior discount. Midwest Express took a different route. It lowered the qualifying age to 55.

7. Promotions may offer the best deals. For example, travelers 55 and older and their companions can book Cathay Pacific's Worry Free Fares year-round, change travel dates at any time free of charge and get a full refund if they cancel before departure. Contact www. cathay-usa.com / 55plus.

8. Always ask for the lowest airfare. If you don't, you may not learn that a Monday departure (even if you get the best Monday price) misses a much lower fare for departing on Tuesday.

9. Trust, but verify. No one has the time to do complete comparison shopping. Remember the vendors that gave you good deals, but check other vendors from time to time. No one has the best deal all of the time, on everything.

10. After you purchase a ticket, you can still save. Watch to see if the airfare drops considerably, or ask your travel agent to monitor the fare for you. Even with change fees, you can still come out ahead.

11. If low airfares are sold out for your desired itinerary, check airfare / hotel and airfare / car rental (fly / drive) packages. Air-lines withhold some of their low-fare inventory for packages. Even if you never use the hotel or car rental component, you can save.

12. It's always off-season somewhere. Traveling off-season can cut the cost of a trip by 50 percent or more. Check places where seasonal rate breaks abound, such as Europe in winter and ski-resort areas in November and April.

13. For international travel, always ask if your desired travel dates are near the date when fare seasons change. Discount months (excluding holidays) are usually January and February for Asia; April through August for Australia and New Zealand; May through mid-December for the Caribbean; November through April for Europe; and April through November for South America.

14. If you are displeased with an airline, let it know. But an airline can't be expected to tell you about a better deal from a competitor. That's a service only a travel agent (or your own research) can provide.

15. Two-for-one ticket deals sound wonderful (and sometimes are), but they usually require the purchase of the first ticket at a price higher than the lowest available fare. Compare the cost of any two-for-one deal with the cost of two of the cheapest fares.

16. Airlines offer members of the military on active duty discounts of up to 50 percent. They also offer discounts to military dependents. Because the saving comes off nondiscounted fares, these discounts (much like bereavement fares) do not always provide your best deal. Internet fares and low-fare airlines can be the best way to go.

17. AirTran's X-Fares (888-493-2737; www.airtran.com / specials / xfares / index.jsp) for travelers ages 18 to 22 allows standby travel for $52 per segment, plus about $5 in fees. You can't check baggage, and there are restrictions.

18. Try to avoid booking on Fridays, often the day when one airline enters fare increases, then waits to see if others will match over the weekend.

19. If low-fare seats are sold out, check again just after midnight when tickets on hold cancel.

20. Remember alternate airports. It's often cheaper to fly to Baton Rouge, La., instead of New Orleans; Long Beach instead of Los Angeles; or Chicago Midway instead of O'Hare. The money you save may be worth the drive.

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